Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009: some unadorned lists

1. A Prophet
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Bright Star
4. White Material
5. Modern Life
6. Sugar
7. Sin Nombre
8. Where the Wild Things Are
9. Fish Tank
10. Only When I Dance

runners-up: Adventureland, Antichrist, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Avatar, Coraline, Everlasting Moments, A Serious Man, Thirst

Best Director

Jacques Audiard (A Prophet)
Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Jane Campion (Bright Star)
Claire Denis (White Material/35 Shots of Rum)
Cristian Mungiu and co (
Tales from the Golden Age)

Best Actress

Vera Farmiga (Orphan/Up in the Air)
Maria Heiskanen (Everlasting Moments)
Isabelle Huppert (White Material/Home)
Kim Ok-vin (Thirst)
Hilda Peter (Katalin Varga)

runners-up: Abbie Cornish (Bright Star), Penélope Cruz (Broken Embraces), Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank), Maya Rudolph (Away We Go)

Best Actor

Paul Bettany (Creation)
Mark Duplass (Humpday)
Denis Moschitto (Chiko)
Tahar Rahim (A Prophet)
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

runners-up: Russell Crowe (State of Play), Robert Downey, Jr (The Soloist), Jamie Foxx (The Soloist), Alex Macqueen (The Hide), Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man), Adam Sandler (Funny People), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), Ben Whishaw (Bright Star)

Best Supporting Actress

Nicole Dogué (35 Shots of Rum)
Anne-Marie Duff (Nowhere Boy)
Mo'Nique (Precious)
Lorna Raver (Drag Me to Hell)
Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy)

runners-up: Holly Grainger (Awaydays), Rebecca Griffiths (Fish Tank), Cécile de France (Mesrine: Killer Instinct), Blanca Portillo (Broken Embraces)

Best Supporting Actor

Niels Arestrup (A Prophet)
Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank)
Martin Starr (Adventureland)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Afterschool)
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

runners-up: Liam Boyle (Awaydays), Tom Hollander (In the Loop), Paul Schneider (Bright Star)

More categories soon...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Destination: Blah

I'm sure other folks will find kind things to say about The Last Station, but I can't. The costumes... the occasional elegant composition... the odd line... I probably could, but I can't. For starters, Mirren's shoo-in-for-a-nomination performance is a succession of Oscar clips, and not in a good way. She gives those telecast editors so many choices! Will it be the operatic ruckus where she smashes the best part of a crockery set, place by place down the length of the Tolstoys' dining table? The scene where she attempts to eavesdrop on all the other major characters, tangles herself up in a stray curtain, and screams abuse at them on all fours? The bit where she plays teary target practice with Paul Giamatti's portrait, mainly so we can accent this part of the plot with the cut-rate-Chekhov report of a gun going off behind closed doors? How about her farcical suicide attempt rolling off a pier? One thing's for sure, it won't be the fantastically embarrassing scene wherein she and Plummer exchange animal noises ("I'm your chicken, you be my big cock!") and ruffle each other's feathers on the marriage bed. Reader, I was watching that one through my fingers. The movie is structured around this furious showboating, which might have been histrionic fun if its actual drama weren't so measly, and Mirren, at her least pliable, so determined to build an entire exoskeleton of character out of incredulous frowning, transparent calculation and fawning hypochondria.

Every awards season brings in one obligatory misfire like The Last Station, which isn't bad enough to be written off as a no-hoper, while also struggling to constitute anything other than a leaden chore. You could see it as this year's Changeling -- or worse, last year's reheated Quills, since large chunks of it are given over to the same giggly battle between priggishness and sexual freedom which made that the prestige bummer of 2000. Swap in James McAvoy for Joaquin Phoenix, and Kerry Condon for Kate Winslet, and there's your romantic subplot between an earnest young acolyte just waiting to have his clothes ripped off, his eyes opened. In fairness, McAvoy, handsome and ardent with his neat little ginger beard, was the one major performer who stood a chance of dragging me back into the movie, in the frequent moments when I was mentally checking out, usually when someone read out another telegram, poured more tea, or followed up another thoroughly drab statement with the anxious question, "Does this make me a reactionary?". I don't know what it is about Paul Giamatti in period beards and foreign accents, but he sounds dubbed and hardly there, like he's trying out line readings for The Illusionist II. I have almost nothing to say about Plummer, or the tinkly earnestness of the score, or the way the closing crane shot wobbles its way inexpertly above a steam train, or the script, which hits all the historically pertinent notes without playing them in any way you could recognise as a decent tune. It's a hard movie to loathe, you'll probably find, but I tried my best. D+

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A personal top 100 of the decade

Having confessed myself a little taken aback this week by the venom that greeted the Telegraph's defined-the-decade list I helped compile -- some people take these things much too seriously -- I thought I'd ride the controversy a little further and clarify a few things with my own list. So we're on the same page: the below is a "favourites" list, for fun, not a "defined" list or even a "best" list groping after some vague universal criteria. Expecting only a 10-15 film overlap with the Telegraph choices, I've surprised myself with (I think) 29 duplicated titles, which goes to show that I actually think there's a lot of very good stuff on that list, as well as obviously weaker films that nonetheless made a significant drop in the ocean, in whatever way.

It's not set in stone yet, and I'll probably keep tinkering with the order, but it's something like my favourite 100 films of the decade as of right this second. Tomorrow, who knows? Doubtless I've left things off which will occur to me later -- I'm fairly scatter-brained about keeping records -- and there's a small chance that something I see in the next six weeks will need inserting, but I consider it a pretty small one by this point. (Only four 2009 films have made it on so far, with a couple of others just on the cusp: I'll admit, I think I got a bit carried away with Antichrist.) I've gone by the IMDb year listings (not US or UK release dates) for all films, which means that, say, Beau Travail is ineligible (despite being released in most countries in the year 2000), whereas White Material and A Prophet, which premiered at festivals this year, make it in. If you spot any glaring errors, let me know!

Without further ado...

100. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
99. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
98. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
97. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)
96. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005)
95. Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001)
94. Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000)
93. Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2008)
92. In this World (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
91. The Last Victory (John Appel, 2004)
90. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
89. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
88. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)
87. A Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi, 2000)
86. Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002)
85. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
84. Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
83. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
82. Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
81. Frozen Land (Aku Louhimies, 2005)
80. The King of Kong (Seth Gordon, 2007)
79. Johnny Mad Dog (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, 2008)
78. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
77. Les petites vacances (Olivier Peyon, 2006)
76. Abouna (Mahamat Saleh-Haroun, 2002)
75. We Own the Night (James Gray, 2007)
74. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003)
73. The Night of the Sunflowers (Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, 2006)
72. Yella (Christian Petzold, 2007)
71. Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)
70. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
69. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
68. Deep Water (Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell, 2006)
67. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
66. 13 Lakes (James Benning, 2004)
65. Requiem (Hans-Christian Schmid, 2006)
64. Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
63. Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
62. Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)
61. Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008)
60. Modern Life (Raymond Depardon, 2008)
59. Nationale 7 (Jean-Pierre Sinapi, 2000)
58. The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)
57. King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)
56. When the Levees Broke (Spike Lee, 2006)
55. I ♥ Huckabees (David O Russell, 2004)
54. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
53. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
52. Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran, 2006)
51. The Fall (Tarsem, 2006)
50. Bus 174 (José Padilha, 2004)
49. The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2000)
48. Adam & Paul (Lenny Abrahamson, 2004)
47. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
46. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004)
45. Couscous (Abdel Kechiche, 2007)
44. The Company (Robert Altman, 2003)
43. Punch-Drunk Love (PT Anderson, 2002)
42. Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
41. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
40. The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002)
39. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
38. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
37. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)
36. The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004)
35. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
34. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)
33. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2005)
32. Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
31. Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, 2000)
30. Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)
29. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
28. Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000)
27. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
26. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
25. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)
24. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
22. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)
21. Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
20. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
19. Our Daily Bread (Nikolaus Geyrhalter, 2005)
18. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
17. Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002)
16. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
15. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
14. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
L’emploi du temps (Laurent Cantet, 2001)
12. Black Sun (Gary Tarn, 2005)
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)

Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
9. Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005)
INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
7. Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
6. demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002)
5. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
4. There Will Be Blood (PT Anderson, 2007)
3. The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I'm Reading

(from "Foes")

"Your man Barama, my friend, would not even be in the running if he wasn't black."

Now all appetite left him entirely. The food on his plate, whatever it was, splotches of taupe, dollops of orange, went abstract like a painting. His blood pressure flew up; he could feel the pulsing twitch in his temple. "You know, I never thought about it before but you're right! Being black really
is the fastest, easiest way to get to the White House!"

She said nothing, and so he added , "Unless you're going by cab, and then, well, it can slow you down a little."


The shaker appeared before him. He shook some salt around on his plate and stared at it.


"If you don't think I as a woman know a thing or two about prejudice, you would be sadly mistaken," Linda said.

"Hey, it's not that easy being a man either," said Bake. "There's all that cash you have to spend on porn? and believe me, that's money you never get back."

He then retreated, turned toward his left, toward Suzy, and leaned in. "Help me," he whispered in her ear.

"Are you charming the patrons?"

"I fear some object may be thrown."

"You're supposed to charm the patrons."

(from "Paper Losses")

In the chrome of the refrigerator she caught the reflection of her own face, part brunette Shelley Winters, part potato, the finely etched sharps and accidentals beneath her eyes a musical interlude amid the bloat. In every movie she had seen with Shelley Winters in it, Shelley Winters was the one who died.


And that's just the first two stories in the collection! How had I not discovered this woman before?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

LFF09: picking up the pace

I've been sluggish with the pre-festival press screenings, but now that this thing is in swing, I'm going for broke. Look to the sidebar for my undoubtedly over-ambitious viewing planner for the next two weeks -- I'll add in grades as and when each film is ticked off. Today's morning slot brought us John Hillcoat's The Road, which is a lot better than you may have heard, while stalling some way short of greatness -- I was impressed by all sorts of things, but certainly frustrated by its rather strained emotionalism. The best news so far is Claire Denis's White Material, which I only just sneaked into this afternoon, and left me nursing a crick in my neck from straining to read the subtitles past the head of the extremely tall man just in front. To anyone suffering a similar fate behind me, I apologise, but whoever designed Screen 9 of the Vue West End was either oblivious to the whole idea of foreign cinema or a seriously impressive polyglot. More to the point, the rest of the fest will have trouble trumping White Material: I think it's Denis's best movie since Beau Travail, which is saying quite a lot, though the juxtaposition of this scorching territorial tug-of-war with the recently released 35 Shots of Rum does actually back up my belief that the latter film, despite contaning one of her single most gorgeous sequences, was otherwise a teensy bit overpraised. Meanwhile, Huppert, with this, the excellent Home, and Benoît Jacquot's not-yet-screened Villa Amalia (she plays the piano and divests herself of all worldly possessions -- sold!) is clearly on a major roll. Looking forward to some proper cramming next week: do get down there in the comments with any tips or disagreements, or just to say hi.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stuck in the middle with you, and you, and you...

Of all grades I instinctively want to avoid handing out too often, the boring old B– is top of the list. It's the sitting-on-the-fence grade: it feels lazy, as though I can't force myself down on one side or the other. And yet, right now, it's an affliction. I can't get round the problem of nearly liking about half the stuff on my current sidebar. Fabrice du Welz's Vinyan (pictured) has smashing photography, a confident arrangement of ideas and settings, an unexpectedly good Rufus Sewell performance... but Antichrist it just ain't, I'm afraid. Surrogates is about twice the film anyone was expecting, but still about half the one anyone could plausibly argue was a must-see. Army of Crime is so drab-looking and sluggishly assembled it was looking C-tier till way into the second half, but then the story gets going and I was hooked and moved. District 13: Ultimatum is neither more nor less than a propulsive, dumb, niftily edited action flick with a threadbare conspiracy plot that no one's worrying about too much. But it's still a B. Individually they're all just fine, but collectively they feel like some tyranny or epidemic of fine. Can someone who is NOT Nia Vardalos or Ricky Gervais please break this stranglehold?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009: Mid-Year Favourites

I'm basically looking at everything since last year's awards season, which happens to include Synecdoche, New York over here in the UK, and not to include last year's mentions Julia and Summer Hours.

The Hurt Locker
Modern Life

Synecdoche, New York

Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)
Charlie Kaufman (Synecdoche, New York)
Sam Raimi (Drag Me to Hell)
Lars von Trier (Antichrist)
Jan Troell (Everlasting Moments)

Runners-up: Henry Selick (Coraline), Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), Cary Fukuyama (Sin Nombre), Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Raymond Depardon (Modern Life)

Russell Crowe (State of Play)
Robert Downey, Jr (The Soloist)
Denis Moschitto (Chiko)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche, New York)
Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man)

Unusual riches here this year. Five terrific runners-up: Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Jamie Foxx (The Soloist), Paul Rudd (I Love You, Man), Adam Sandler (Funny People), Alex MacQueen (The Hide).

Penélope Cruz (Broken Embraces)
Vera Farmiga (Orphan) (!)
Maria Heiskanen (Everlasting Moments)
Isabelle Huppert (Home)
Maya Rudolph (Away We Go)

This field is bugging me, in part because, beyond the wonderful Heiskanen, it's hard one to rave about. I keep going back and forth on whether Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank) really belongs here -- see comments -- and I think she's probably on the cusp. Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist) and Lina Leandersson (Let the Right One In) are commendable, but trail some way behind.

Liam Boyle (Awaydays)
Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank)
Tom Hollander (In the Loop)
Martin Starr (Adventureland)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Afterschool)

Cécile de France (Mesrine: Killer Instinct)
Holly Grainger (Awaydays)
Rebecca Griffiths (Fish Tank)
Blanca Portillo (Broken Embraces)
Lorna Raver (Drag Me to Hell)

Let the Right One In
A Serious Man
Synecdoche, New York
35 Shots of Rum

Fish Tank
The Hurt Locker
Modern Life
Sin Nombre

Production design, Coraline
Editing, sound and score, Drag Me to Hell
Editing and sound, The Hurt Locker
Visual effects and score, Moon
Sound, Let the Right One In
Score, 35 Shots of Rum

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Links galore

Three things to plug: first (belatedly) this convo with Nick about Michael Mann's Ali, a movie we were both intrigued to revisit.

My brief Telegraph review of David R Ellis's b.o.-topping but grim and cynical The Final Destination is up online after a technical glitch.

Plus, I'll be tuning in over at In Contention to Guy Lodge's reports on the Venice competish. I like his style.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Chatting up Timecode

The latest in my series of conversational duets with Nick Davis. Except this one is four duets. Enjoy, and thank Nick for doing all the formatting, including the lead-in animation!

Ugly of uglies

[A rare bonus review here -- I wrote it for the Telegraph before realising my colleague had already covered it. Feel my horror that I saw this thing for nothing!]

It helps, in a battle of the sexes, when you have a certain sympathy for both sides. “Vive la différence!” cries Spencer Tracy when armistice is agreed in Adam’s Rib, one of the model romantic comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

But who or what are we rooting for in The Ugly Truth? It surely isn’t Katherine Heigl, shaping up as the new Ashley Judd at this point, and harder to like than she’s ever been. It’s not Gerard Butler, whose rugged caveman routine stood him a greater chance of getting some action cruising on the beaches in 300.

Forget that this movie is hollow at the core and appears unacquainted with a human of either gender -- that’s par for the course. It’s worse. It’s been put together with a shiny cynicism that’s almost chilling. It tells us “truths” about male and female mating habits that may have you wanting to seek corrective dating advice from Chris Moyles. It makes The Proposal look like His Girl Friday.

This absolute stinker purports to take place at a TV news station in Sacramento, which doesn’t look much like any TV news station this side of Jupiter. Heigl is the control-freak producer forced to manage her new guest star (Butler), an “übermoron misogynist” who specialises in telling it like it is. Men, you see, are basic. Men want big breasts and lots of blonde hair. Heigl is, of course, single, and scares her dates away. Only after a reluctant makeover involving push-up bras and hair extensions is she any kind of catch.

Rewind for a minute to 2007, when this leading lady famously took a chunk out of her star-making hit Knocked Up, calling it sexist for painting the women as shrews. I see her point, but The Ugly Truth is not the stand I’d have recommended. The swish dinner Heigl attends wearing a pair of remote-controlled vibrating knickers? Not really one in the eye for male chauvinism. Still, if Heigl and Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic were secretly plotting to put you off romcoms for life, they’ve certainly given it some welly. F

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robbery in Public

Since the kind folks at Univeral Music bunged me a copy, I'm listening to the soundtrack to Michael Mann's Public Enemies, and enjoying it quite a bit more than I did the film. It kicks off with a fantastic Otis Taylor blues track called "Ten Million Slaves", which makes the biggest impression of any of the music cues in the movie, with its restlessly strumming banjos and electrifying air of anything-goes fatalism. You can't really go wrong with the three Billie Holiday standards, either -- "Love Me Or Leave Me", "Am I Blue?", and "The Man I Love" -- though I admit that I'm going through a serious Billie phase at the moment, and that her vignettes of rapture and abandonment speak far more eloquently in their own right than the film's underpowered love story (with its own gal called Billie).

If there's a dismaying aspect to the disc, and to Mann's music choices generally, it's the progressive neutering of Elliot Goldenthal, one of the friskiest, most challenging composers in Hollywood in the mid-to-late 1990s, here coerced into a level of musical "borrowing" you'd more often find in a Ridley Scott or Alan Parker picture. The biggest influence is Hans Zimmer's Thin Red Line score -- Mann even gives him a thank you in the end credits, and we now know for damn sure which temp track he used while editing the stand-out woodland chase sequence, because Goldenthal trots out a compressed but unmistakable variation on Zimmer's justly famous "Journey to the Line", with its peeping, metronomic backdrop and thick strings layered on down in the lower registers.

It serves the sequence, and for anyone else this would be a solid score, but I consider it a great shame that the man who laid on the scary liturgical awe of Alien³, the sweeping operatics of Interview with the Vampire, and the peekaboo baroque riffs of Titus -- who even produced compelling stuff for In Dreams and Sphere (Sphere!), of all films -- has been hired to perform this musical equivalent of a cuttings job, culled from a far more limited artist's best work, to boot. I get on my high horse about directors falling overly in love with their temp tracks/Rolling Stones intros (you know who you are) but there's really no point hiring someone as gifted as Goldenthal if you're going to tie his hands this way -- the music just ends up as another frustrating, half-cooked element of a film that barely seems bothered about realising its best potential. Perhaps this matters less in the grand scheme of things, but it also makes for the only Goldenthal disc I own where he provides less than half of the cues and that's plenty.
Grade for the whole CD:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Chatting up the Noughties

There's no one I like talking movies with more than Nick Davis over at Nick's Flick Picks, and I'm delighted to be doing this in a semi-regular way now for online publication. Here are the first two of a series of discussions we've got planned, in each case plucking a movie from the beginning of the decade and seeing how it holds up. Danny Boyle's The Beach didn't, or at least not too well; but we found heaps to say in favour of Spike Lee's Bamboozled. I've been slow getting round to post these links, but will aim to be a bit more on the ball for subsequent instalments... stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Parsing Antichrist

(With apologies to, y'know, poets):



Automisogny. We're not talking about


Cars not liking women, but a mother driven


To make a witch of herself, one that can’t feel or screw with feeling;


Monstered by therapy and her man; monstering back


In Tarkovsky’s Mirror image of a woodland refuge. No joke.


“Chaos reigns,” declares Now-Notorious Fox, grandiosely


Perusing his own entrails – like much else it scores


An admiring laugh, for this film’s serious (and only half not)


In its midnight fairytale logic


Advancing in actual careful strides


Through phases of spurious “healing”, aftershock, and… yikes.


From the snowglobe opening – I sensed


From the kid’s very expression (malicious, as he plummets


And destroys them) that Lars was onto something


Solaris-ish and yet pure Lars. No joke. I can’t dismiss this, for it is


Obscene calligraphy in mist (Anthony Dod Mantle,


You can totally keep that Oscar now) 

and above all MENTAL ON PURPOSE. A—

Friday, June 05, 2009

Bernhard plays Leicester Square

Try and forgive the crummy photo, taken on my phone, but this is one gal you do not want to upset by pointing flashing objects at her more than, say, once during a two-hour show, to snatch a guilty souvenir. Plus I was almost certainly shaking from laughter at the time -- good excuse, right? She had me at minute two, milking a promo interview on Richard and Judy with this duly puzzled and utterly perfect description of Judy Finnigan: "A jittery lady... with slightly burnt cleavage". I practically sprayed beer over the row in front. ITV's Loose Women weren't let off the hook either -- "Someone told me they were like these hellraisers, flinging themselves around the set. What's up with that? They seemed so... demure." Way to nail the London showbiz scene, Sandra. Come back soon!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cannes jollity

Trawling through this year's Cannes coverage in belated, typically jealous fashion, I was craving some laughs. Plenty, it must be said, came courtesy of the spit-flecked critical reaction to Lars von Trier's Antichrist, the film I'm now keenest to see from this year's crop, along with "The Audiard", "The Haneke", "The Campion", "The Andrea Arnold", and "The One With Mariah Carey In A Role Originally Offered to Helen Mirren". Even more chuckles, though, came from my friend Catherine's two visits to the Cannes Marché, resulting in these two poster galleries positively heaving with bottom-of-the-barrel commercial desperation. Flick through and relish the bizarro image choices, the unintentionally off-putting taglines, the brilliance of "Don't Burn!" as an actual film title, and Catherine's genius comments to the side. Comedy gold.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Opening the Oscar Files

Unlike the rest of the movie-geek blogosphere, I am a total lightweight in the Oscar completism stakes. For job purposes, I catch all the new stuff, but let it be known that I have not seen a single Best Picture nominee from 1955, 1956, 1963 (admittedly, iffy-looking years) or 1927-9. Shame on me. Also unlike hardcore Oscar addict pals, I don’t keep a percentage tally of how many nominees I’ve seen across the history of the awards, because I’m pretty sure it would consign me to a failing grade in every category. If such things are meant to be a point of pride, why humiliate myself?

Still, you can’t accuse me of not being keen to catch up and join the cool gang; if a critical awareness of, say, Stuart Erwin’s performance in Pigskin Parade (Supporting Actor, 1936) is what’s required to gain access to this inner circle of movie-trivia mastery, then I’m jolly well going to hunt it down, sooner or later. Armed with my trusty copy of The Academy Awards Handbook -- New and Updated 1996 edition (Pinnacle Books, John Harkness, with my yellow highlighting everywhere and a Supporting Actress error on page 74) I have recently trawled through, year by year, and added every unwatched movie I can possibly find on Region 2 DVD to my lovefilm queue: a not unlaborious process which kept me up to 3am a few nights ago. Said queue now has 302 titles on it, all but a tiny handful on medium priority, so they will arrive through my letterbox in more or less random order. I’ve cheated with a few high priorities to kick things off, because I’m really keen to see, say, The Ruling Class and The Snake Pit, whereas it will be a blue day in the Robey household when Charly turns up, and an even bluer one when I have to subject myself to The Alamo. No pain, no gain, as they say.

You’ll be able to see from the newly added sidebar that it’s been a mixed but mostly positive start to this mad endeavour. I completely loved Martin Ritt’s Hud, so sinewy yet tender, and sensationally acted, to the point where it’s made an instant sally into the bottom reaches of my top 100. I certainly can’t say I was expecting this, though I somehow knew I’d flip for Patricia Neal in it. Richard Rush’s cracking game of filmmaking metaphysics, The Stunt Man, wasn’t far behind – delirious mayhem with its own crazy-wonderful syntax, a suitably imperious O’Toole performance, and the sexiest heterosexual screen couple (Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback, who both deserved nominations) that I’ve seen cop off since young Mel and Sigourney lit up The Year of Living Dangerously. Massively enjoyable, as was Mamoulian’s Jekyll and Hyde, for which the quite brilliant and unusually physical Fredric March bagged a shared Best Actor award in 1931-2. We head down, qualitatively speaking, through William Wellman’s 1937 version of A Star is Born, which I found less full-blooded than the Cukor remake, though it has plenty of impressive acting, nostalgia value, and fine photography, colourised or no. Then there was Joan Crawford going mental from a broken heart in the tastily overripe Warners melodrama Possessed – a hoot from the first crashing piano arpeggios over the credits, which sound as if someone got a midget to sprint up a Steinway.

What else? William Wyler’s moony stab at Wuthering Heights was a multiple nominee in 1939, though quite rightly not for Merle Oberon as its stiff and prissy Cathy; it qualifies as a frustrating muddle despite the general veneer of class, and I couldn’t believe Geraldine Fitzgerald got a competent-ingenue Supporting Actress nod rather than the truly deserving Flora Robson, easily the most focused presence in the movie as the watchful housekeeper. Taking a big leap down, I rolled my eyes with almost painful frequency through the gormless and lazily-made Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, for which Susan Hayward got her first citation, in part because it looked like it was going to be just as pleasurably trashy as the same year’s Possessed. Instead, it was thoroughly tedious: Dorothy Parker’s script is full of on-message tosh about the music industry and being married, Hayward (as an alcoholic train-wreck chanteuse: how could this go wrong?) gave a performance dominated by staring crossly into her whisky before downing it, and after three renditions of a sudsy lullaby to her darling, innocent child, I was all but throwing things at my bedroom TV set. Still, a D was possibly a little harsh: there’s one proper claws-out catfight to recommend it.

Speaking of Wyler disappointments, today’s viewing was Detective Story, a four-time nominee in 1951, and borderline bad, if you ask me. It’s not strictly Wyler’s fault – his camera prowls around this New York cop shop quite nimbly – but that of the thumpingly crude source material, a dull, dull play by Sidney Kingsley built around the mindblowing notion that crime shouldn’t just be seen in black and white. Kirk Douglas is the huffy maverick detective who becomes straw man in this thesis when we witness his failure to compromise: he sticks to his guns, determined to lock up backstreet abortionists and small-time embezzlers alike, and throw away the key. Wyler would have needed a Brando to make this guy’s sentimental redemption work, and Douglas, unlike Brando, is a much better actor when he’s embodying decency – somehow, when he’s playing mean, you sense he’s just biding his time before the niceness kicks in. William Bendix, completely belonging here as his weary-wise colleague, is the unheralded pick of this cast, otherwise given to strained “gritty” character work -- did 1940s NYPD guys really pronounce the word “quirks” like “quoiks”, or have they just been watching too much Daffy Duck? Eleanor Parker plays Douglas’s wife, a spotless sort (she’s called Mary) who turns out to have a Sexual History (Kirk doesn’t like this) and got a Best Actress nomination, presumably for the dubious “bravery” of this subplot rather than her profiscient, teary, but unexceptional performance. Lee Grant, as a flibbertigibbet pickpocket hanging around the station, got nominated for twitching, smiling, staring at the cops, and generally being quoiky. Hey-ho. Not every Wyler movie can be Dodsworth or The Little Foxes, but I was at least hoping for a Desperate Hours.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Get Off My Lawn!

Mr Knebbercracker should sue, no?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Slumdog, I take it all back...

Sweet holy Jesus. I'm with these guys. D

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Guest Oeuvres are back!

True to my word, I'm finding gradual ways to spruce up this blog, starting with the sidebars. Much as we love Apichatpong Weerasethakul, he'd been sitting there far too long, mainly reminding me of my failure to see Syndromes and a Century on at least two occasions. So for the gala re-opening of my "guest oeuvre" slot (look right, and scroll right down) I'm going for a biggie: Alfred Hitchcock. My gaps in the silent period are frankly embarrassing, so I've telescoped it to deal with only the years from 1934 onwards, which is not to say I wouldn't like people to weigh in on the earlier stuff they may have seen and would particularly recommend, or recommend avoiding. This feature has always been my favourite way to start conversations on this blog, so get down there in the comments and tell me I'm wrong. Tell me Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock's own personal favourite among his films, deserves better than the B I've given it. Tell me Marnie is a mess, of fascination only to pretentious film students. Or that Vertigo is waaay overrated. Berate me loudly for not having seen I Confess yet (Father forgive me, I've seen about half of it). As politely as possible, I may attempt to argue back, but let's get this party started, and celebrate the greatest dead Englishman ever to make movies. With due apologies to Charlie Chaplin...

Yuletide hostilities

Because I like to supply a personal touch now and then, here is my cat Eartha, wearing a scarf. Volumes could be written on the Cold War this Christmas between Eartha (whose namesake of course died on Christmas Day) and my family's three springer spaniels (one pictured at the top right of this blog). There was attempted sniffing, there was hissing, there was retreat and bafflement. There was a truly bizarre, hitherto unknown warbling growl coming from somewhere deep in this cat's oesophagus. It said "What the holy fuck are you?", and the sentiment was mutual. There was a repeat of all that, several times a day. No olive branches were extended; the Iron Curtain did not come down; and the standoff continues, albeit at the greater distance of about 30 miles. Hackles have settled, at least for now, and a wary truce presides.

A whole ocean of unfinished business

This entire blog sometimes feels like unfinished business. It's my main New Year's Resolution to revive it properly, but before revving up with any 2008 post mortems, here's what I should have posted about a year ago -- my finalised best and worst of 2007.

The best...

10. Funny Ha Ha
9. Les petites vacances
8. Into the Wild
7. Yella
6. Conversations with Other Women
5. The Night of the Sunflowers
4. Lady Chatterley
3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days
2. I'm Not There
1. There Will Be Blood

and the worst.

10. Hannibal Rising
9. Good Luck Chuck
8. The Nanny Diaries
7. Pathfinder
6. The Reef
5. Material Girls
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
3. Outlaw
2. License to Wed
1. Captivity

Expect similar lists for 2008 in the next few days, along with the whole Oscar category run-down. Like it or not, it's list season!